Library and Alzheimer Society team up to create tactile bags

Ken Kellar

The Alzheimer Society of Kenora-Rainy River has teamed up with a local organizaiton to provide a novel item for persons living with dementia and their caregivers.

Alzheimer society client services co-ordinator Mary O’Connor and Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre CEO Joan MacLean marked the official launch of four tactile bags available to loan from the library on Thursday afternoon, a collaboration born of a little idea.

“It came from library staff, actually,” O’Connor explained.

“It was the summer student [name here] who approached me and said, ‘Wonder if we could do something along this line?’ and I said absolutely… and then Nadine [Cousineau] and I went uptown and went shopping and picked out different things and it was really a lot of fun, and then we got everything together.”

The bags are unassuming at first glance: simple black fabric decorated with the logos for both the Alzheimer Society and the Fort Frances Public Library. Take one of the bags home and open it up, however, and their purpose, and appeal, are laid bare.

Each bag contains about a dozen assorted, colourful objects -like a stressball, wooden blocks or soft rubber suction cups- each one locally sourced from businesses in town and meant to function as a tool for a person living with dementia.

“As we know, people with dementia tend to need something to keep busy,” O’Connor said.

“The idea is fine motor skills, the tactile. With people with dementia, visual is very, very important, hence the bright colours… And if they go missing, they’re inexpensive to replace.”

The bags also contain a number of laminated index cards identifying each piece, to make returning the complete kit that much easier. O’Connor also noted that it was important to choose items that can be easily cleaned and disinfected when the tactile bags are returned from a loan, as people living with dementia will often put small objects in their mouths. It’s also why puzzles were ruled out from being included in the bags.

The role of the library has changed over time, and while some might still find the idea of borrowing anything other than a book or movie from the library to be a strange concept, MacLean said they are a perfect home for the tactile bags.

“As a community hub, we’re centrally located and we’re easy for everyone in the community to get to,” she said.

“Plus we’re open weekends where the [Alzheimer Society] office might not be open.”

O’Connor currently doesn’t have an office in Fort Frances, but added the benefit of the tactile bags being accessed from the library is that people don’t need to track her down to get one, or even reach out to the Alzheimer Society at all

“People in the early stages are usually quite hesitant to contact the Alzheimer Society,” O’Connor said.

“So to have them so people can check them out, have them look at them, and what works is going to be great. That’s one of the hardest things; giving them a sense of purpose and meaning and something to do. That’s the idea behind it.”

It’s not even that far out an idea to borrow different kits and bags of stuff from the library.

“We have other items like this that people check out,” MacLean explained.

“It’s a nature kit, there’s a little pair of binoculars and all kinds of things. So this is an interesting way of approaching it, and it’s also something that we’re already doing, but it’s so different.”

O’Connor said that the bags also fill a gap for caregivers who might need a moment or two to do something apart from the person in their care.

“It’s really hard for caregivers,” she said.

“You know, when you’re trying to make supper, and the idea is that it will help that, by keeping them busy.”

O’Connor and MacLean also noted the composite nature of the bags make them perfect for adding more, or different, pieces down the road.

“Hopefully as time goes on, we get a few extra dollars, buy a few extra things to throw in,” O’Connor said.

“The more the merrier. I’m not sure how that will work but I’m thinking it’s not a big expense and yet I think it’s going to be really good.”

“And we’re perfectly open to suggestions that people think ‘well, why don’t you have this in the bag?'” MacLean added.

“And then that’s something we can talk about and add. It’s a program that has a lot of growth potential.”

The bags are available now to borrow from the Fort Frances Public Library, and both MacLean and O’Connor are excited at the potential they have for those living with dementia, as well as their families and caregivers.

“I do want to say also that the library is really proud to be adding these items to our collections,” MacLean said.

“The idea is not just for [the person living with dementia],” O’Connor added.

“A lot of times, especially early on, if the caregiver goes, ‘oh this is really cool,’ and sits down with one then the person with dementia will say, ‘oh yeah!’ and go through it too. It’s something they can do together as well, which is what you want. That improves quality of life, all of that kind of stuff. You feel connected and that’s what it’s all about.”